But beyond the funny anecdotes and hidden amidst the touching accounts of her struggles, were few details of her origins. When asked about his mother's birthplace, grandfather would make vague references to the Hampshire market town of Romsey. He knew little more than that, and there was no reason why he should have.
Some years after his death, I started to research the family history, and made the discovery that Julia Elizabeth Baker had, in fact, been born in a neighbouring village.
It was odd that we moved to our present location in 2000, not realising for one moment, that my great grandmother had started her life just two miles from our front door. What's more, her father, James Baker, was born, here in our village, as was his father and his father before. In fact, the Bakers have a history, right here, back to the late 1600s.
In 1896 Julia, aged 22, married my great grandfather, William George Gregory. Five years later they were living in Sway, in the New Forest, with their new daughter, my great aunt May. Six more children followed in the ensuing years, as the family moved about the county, taking up residence in a series of tied cottages. Agricultural work apparently lasted little more than a two year term with any one employer. Michaelmas seems to have been the point in the calendar when men openly declared themselves available for new work, usually by wearing an ear of wheat in their button-hole on market days.
Julia had a musical ear and taught herself to play the harmonium. Each week, the Sunday newspaper (I think it was the News of the World) printed the sheet music of a popular song of the day. Gathering around to listen and sing was the highlight of the week.
Having developed heart problems later in life, Julia died in 1940. William continued living on his own until ill health prompted my grandfather to take him in. The doctor gave him a few weeks at most. He recovered and stayed for nine years. There are no photographs of William but I have a clear mental image of him, thanks to family recollections. He wouldn't have his image 'taken'. I'm so glad that Julia took a different view.
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© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges